Live and Let Die
November 18, 2010 2 Comments
Title: Live and Let Die
Year: 1973. In the early 70’s, Hollywood finally figured out it wasn’t just white people who went to the movies. Discovering this “new” market of black theater goers producers immediately did what they do best; exploit the “new” audience to advance the bottom line. Hence “Blaxploitation” films like Shaft (1971), Super Fly (1972), and the granddaddy of them all, Melvin Van Peebles Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971). (Ed. Note, the title of Van Peebles’ film inspired the “Badassness of Villain” category for Blog James Blog.) These films were very much in tune with a slice of racial politics of the time but they also fail to tell the whole story. They are not about the “real” black America as much as they are about what popular cultural was interested in saying about the black experience of the 70’s. This is very different than say Spike Lee’s 80s films, which do show the black experience of Reagan’s America, admittedly in melodramatic terms. The other side of the race coin was wrestled with in films like Walking Tall (1973) and Deliverance (1972). These “redneck fear” stories also take a thin slice of reality and use a wide brush to paint; in case of these two movies, southern whites. The 8th Bond film takes these conventions, rounds off any edge, and plays black and white stereotypes for laughs. Sometimes it works (the jukebox literally skipping when Bond walks into a Harlem restaurant) and other times it bombs (Sheriff J.W. Pepper). The 70’s “pimp” aesthetic for blacks and bumbling backwoods idiots for whites dates the film some, but the idea of Bond, the world traveler, going places he would never fit in (Harlem, the Louisiana bayou) still plays extremely well. Given the fact that this is a “new” Bond, the concept of doing a fish out water film makes all the scenes in the world.
Film Length: 2 hours and 2 minutes
Bond Actor: Roger Moore. Born in Stockwell, London, in 1927 the son of a policeman, Moore served in the British military during WWII before coming to America and signing a contract with MGM in 1953. By 1962, he became well-known in the UK as Simon Templar on the BBC’s “The Saint.” Suave, extremely handsome, and a true gentleman, Moore became friends with Broccoli and Saltzman who approached him twice about playing Bond. His TV obligation prevented Moore from signing on with EON however he did get to try out the Bond character on a British sketch comedy show “Mainly Millicent.” In the 1964 sketch the comically gifted actor played a tongue in cheek Bond that was not dissimilar from his “official” turn. (The sketch is available on the DVD extras of the Ultimate Edition of Live and Let Die and well worth a watch.) When the third offer came in 1971 Moore was available and became the first Englishman and oldest actor (45) to play 007. When EON recast Bond in 1969, they attempted to make George Lazenby a carbon copy of Connery and even went so far as to not feature the Aussie’s name or face on the first promo posters for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. By not allowing the Aussie to bring his own take on 007 to table, EON pretty much set him up to fail. EON learned their lesson; no one is going to be Connery, so there is no point in trying. The posters for Live and Let Die declared loudly and boldly “Roger Moore IS James Bond” and EON gave him every opportunity to make the role his own. It’s clear this is a Bond for a new generation from the first time we see him on-screen; walking in the iconic gun barrel … sans hat. Whether you like his take on 007 or not, even Roger Moore’s harshest critics must admit that in this first film of his seven, Moore takes the iconic role and succeed beyond expectations in making it his own. The poster doesn’t lie; Roger Moore is indeed James Bond.
Director: Guy Hamilton. A large number of Bond fans don’t particularly care for Moore’s tongue in cheek take on the character. These dissenting voices should thank the scheduling Gods that Sir Moore was available when considering Hamilton, who helmed three Bond films to this point, lobbied hard for smirking cheese ball Burt Reynolds to take over the role. Surprisingly, Broccoli and Saltzman actually considered his recommendation but even more shocking is the reason Reynolds was turned down. The obvious fact that Burt is American was #2 on EONs list of objections; the first was the opinion that Bond had to be over 6 foot tall. (I could find no reports of a “could Bond sport a mustache” debate, but you have to think it happened.) For a moment, picture a 1973 Burt Reynolds sitting across the desk from M or commanding a baccarat table in Morocco and Moore suddenly looks a whole lot better. As a quick aside, one of the first films I remember falling in love with as a kid that didn’t feature aliens or ray guns was The Cannonball Run (1981). This all-star flick feature Reynolds and Moore, the latter driving the tricked out Aston Martin made famous by Connery. The reference was of course lost on me; I just loved cars crashing into swimming pools and Captain Chaos. But I digress. When Hamilton signed on to direct he embraced the idea of making a new kind of Bond picture for a new Bond. When watching Live and Let Die it’s clear everyone involved wanted a very deliberate break from the past. No SPECTRE, no Blofeld, no Q, no flashy car, no meeting in M’s office, and no martinis, shaken or stirred. Save Bond’s hotel in San Monique, the locations are decided unglamorous and gritty. Bond spends most of the film in black American neighborhoods running in circles he is not 100% sure how to navigate light years away from his comfort zone. The other striking thing about this film is how sure-footed Hamilton’s direction is. While the last film with Connery was a disaster in look, pacing, acting, and pretty much every thing else, this film is much more on par with Hamilton’s Goldfinger (1964). Was he intimated by Connery? Did he go to cinematographer school? Whatever the case, the pacing of this film is much tighter and the three main locations are balanced expertly. Admittedly, he is still on the weak side of Bond directors to date. The speed boat chase in the bayou, while featuring some wonderful moments, is not as well shot as the ski chase in On Her Majesty Secret Service and the third act falls apart. Guy will never make anyone forget Terrence Young but Hamilton brings his “A” game for Moore’s debut and the film is better for it.
Reported Budget: $7,000,000 Estimated
Reported Box-office: $35,377,836 (USA) $126,000,000 (Worldwide) The take in the United States was less than Diamonds Are Forever but the worldwide haul was about 10 million more. This clearly indicates something to someone somewhere for sure.
Theme Song: “Live and Let Die” performed by Paul McCartney and Wings. Considering Connery’s 007 once compared drinking warm Dom Perignon to listing to the Beatles without earmuffs, “It just isn’t done,” the music in Live and Let Die could be seen as exhibit A in the break with Bonds past. Paul (The Cute One) and wife Linda (The Tone Deaf One) teamed up with George Martin (The Adult One) not only for the theme but for the score. Gone for the most part is John Berry’s iconic music, replaced by the horn blasts and descending scales of the epic “Live and Let Die.” The first “rock” song to serve as a Bond theme was a hit in the summer of ’73 sitting at #2 for three weeks in states and hitting #9 in the UK. This tune just kills it and it is not only one of the best Bond themes ever but also one of the best solo McCartney compositions. By the by, I consider myself something of a knowledgeable cat when it comes to the rock and/or roll and I think I have my head around the difference between Wings and McCartney solo. However, in the opening titles for Live and Let Die the “Theme Performed by” credit is listed as Paul McCartney and Wings. WTF? Anyway, the only thing that could ever diminish the power of this truly classic song is Axl Rose.
Opening Titles: As per the usual, the opening credits use naked women and symbolic imagery to broadcast what the film is about. In this case, voodoo women dancing among skulls and fire let us know what is about to come. McCartney’s music push the editing to a faster pace and the flash cuts between a wide-eyed woman’s head and a skull tells us things aren’t always what they first appear and perceptions of reality can change quickly. This theme will serve as the through line of the entire film.
Opening Action Sequence: In another break with tradition, Bond is not seen or even hinted at in the opening sequence. We instead are witness to three murders, the first happening at the UN headquarters in New York. The camera pans several ambassadors listening to a foreign language speech through ear pieces. The British delegate is killed by the oldest trick in the book; switching the white wire with the red wire in the ear piece translation box so an audio tone will cause him to drop dead in seconds….classic. Next we see a CIA man watching a funeral procession in the French Quarter. In one of the better exchanges in any Bond film, the agent turns to a man standing next to him and asks “Whose funeral is it?” “Yours” answers the man as he plunges a knife into the agent’s side. Short, sweet, and freaking awesome. Cooler yet, the funeral procession marches over to the curb and stops when the coffin is directly above the fresh stiff. A trapdoor (the first of many in this film) opens in the bottom of the coffin and the pallbearers simply place the coffin on top of the body. The door then closes and the procession moves on, now in a Mardi Gras like dance. Off to the Caribbean Island of San Monique where we land in the middle of some kind of Vegas review version of a voodoo ceremony where things go from bad to worse for the dude in the linen suit. Not only is he tied to a stake but he’s got a goat head sporting snake charmer waving a green serpent in his face. As the crowed writhes about in a frenzy typically reserved for ecstasy heads at Burning Man the snake does what snakes do and we have our third victim. Talk about a hook to start the film! It not only sets the tone but launches the story with minimal exposition.
Bond’s Mission: We first see the new Bond shirtless, lying in bed, with a woman. “One more time” the lovely lady pleads before the moment is interrupted by a knock at the door. “You’re not married by any chance are you?” ask Moore displaying right off the bat that this is a more self-aware, and yes, light-hearted Bond. The second indication comes when Jimmy B sees his boss at the front door. Connery followed the immortal advice of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy to the letter. But here Moore allows the audience to see Bonds wheels turning as he initially panics then quickly improvises a way to get out of this sticky situation. You see, the woman is the Italian agent Mrs. Crusoe and it would be bad if M finds her in Bond’s bed. 007 goes on to distract his boss every which way he can from making a huge production out of brewing a cup of coffee to demonstrating the magnetic powers of his Rolex Submariner that can deflect bullets at long-range “or so I’m told.” “A theory I rather like to test now” answers M. This scene not only sets up the relationship between M and Bond but it sets the table for the rest of the film, IE Bond in places and situations he (and we) don’t expect to find Bond in. These two men are accustomed to meeting in much more formal settings, never in Bonds home while he wearing his PJ’s. But yes, the mission, M tells Bond they have a croaked ambassador in New York, a stabbed CIA guy in New Orleans, and an agent named Banes snake bit in the Caribbean. “Banes sir? I rather liked Banes, we had the same boot maker.” What links the three? It’s Bonds job to find out.
Villain’s Name: Kananga / Mr. Big. As Kananga, he is the dictator of San Monique, a Caribbean island known for voodoo and poppy production. And as Mr. Big, he is an underground crime lord and restaurateur. Mr. Big tends to be bombastic where Kananga is a man of few words. Just a look from his strong face can convey all that needs to be said. Big Kananga’s empire thrives thanks to a constant flow of information. Via a voodoo tarot card reader, he can see into the future knowing, for instance, that Bond is flying to New York before it happens. News of the present is delivered via radio by an extensive network of cab drivers, shoe shiners, and street people who are more efficient than a Twitter account linked to Foursquare. Bond doesn’t move one city block, enter a store, or hail a cab without Big Kananga knowing about it. Secrete agent indeed.
Villain Actor: Yaphet Kotto who happens to be in two films that loom large in my movie world. The New York City native is actually the son of a Cameroonian crown prince but for me he will always be Harry Dean Stanton’s partner in the classic Alien (1979). If you haven’t seen Alien in a while, do yourself a favor and stick it in the queue. The blacks in this very darkly lit film reveal details I never saw when rewatching on the big flat screen. Kotto is also fantastic as FBI Agent Alonzo Mosely in the hysterical Midnight Run (1988). A serious man, Kotto had some issues with Live and Let Die. According to IMDB he hated the way Kananga was written. “I had to dig deep in my soul and brain and come up with a level of reality that would offset the sea of stereotype crap that Tom Mankiewicz wrote that had nothing to do with the Black experience or culture… the entire experience was not as rewarding as I wanted it to be.” His point is well taken. I found it slightly uncomfortable that every black character in the film, save a token CIA agent who has one scene and is later killed, works for Kananga. He also was 100% justified when he said the way Kananga dies was a joke. More on that later but its clear Kotto was not thrilled with the film. None the less, he gives a sold performance and is quite menacing which is what we want for a good Bond Villain.
Villain’s Plot: Developing a business model Manuel Noriega would implement 10 years down the road, Kananga uses his dictatorship to become a powerful drug dealer. He controls the poppy fields in San Monique, the processing plants in the swamps of Louisiana, and distribution via his chain of Fillet of Soul restaurants. The game plan is to give away over a billion dollars worth of heroin, gets everyone hooked, put all the other dealers out of business becoming the Ma Bell of dope. Brilliant! And it would have worked too if it wasn’t for that pesky James Bond.
Villain’s Lair: The only thing Big Kananga loves more than information is secret passages. Every building he owns is silly with em, be it elevators hidden behind armoires, lifts that descend into caves under graveyards, or sliding panels that free poisonous reptiles into unwanted guests rooms. For me, the coolest trapdoors are the “spy abducting tables” at Big Kananga’s Fillet of Soul restaurants. When Bond enters the Harlem branch he’s offered a booth. 007 accepts, sits down, orders a bourbon and branch, and pulls out his wallet to pay. As the waiter takes Bond’s cash the booth spins into the wall and is replaced by an identical looking table. The waiter, with Bonds money in one hand, takes a sip from 007’s drink with the other, and walks away as if nothing happened. Meanwhile, Bond finds himself being menaced by a man with a hook for a hand. Bond however is a quick study and when he enters the New Orleans Fillet of Soul he politely declines the booth. “Do you have anything closer to the stage?” As soon as he settles in at a table in the middle of the room the four top is sucked down into the floor where Bond once again finds himself, sans drink, strapped to a chair. Kananga 2, Bond 0. I saw this film at some point in my childhood and for years I would sit in restaurant booths wondering if (and half hoping) the table would spin into the wall and I’d find a secrete passage. As the dictator of San Monique, Kananga pretty much has run of the island but he still hides Mr. Big’s poppy fields under camouflage tarps in the interest of keeping up appearances. He guards the entire thing with gunmen, dart shooting scarecrows and voodoo smoke and mirrors. Kananga, who spends half his life behind a mask, understands that by representing one thing and obscuring another he is once again controlling information. By knowing the lay of the land, Kananga puts his appoint at a huge disadvantage. It’s a shame Bond and Kananga never got to sit at a card table, he seems like one of the few villains who could outplay 007.
Villain’s Coolest Accessory/ Trait: Well, he kind of has it all. An island nation, a drug network running from Harlem to New Orleans, a voodoo cult, a lady who can read the future and a fleet of gas guzzling 70’s cars to die for. The only thing he really lacks is a decent latex mask. The guy just looks weird as Mr. Big and besides, his best asset his is face. Stone cold, calculating, and able to control a room with a single look, it’s silly and counterproductive to cover it up.
Badassness of Villain: The old man sat in a courtyard surrounded by children when he dared to stand up to the ruthless crack kingpin Nino Brown in New Jack City (1991). “You’re killing your own people!” he shouted with such conviction and disgust that Nino paused just for a moment to consider what was said. Deep down Nino knew that after a life of utter evil, keeping his brothers addicted and down would be his worst sin. Kananga, Nino times 100, (Nino controlled a New York City borough, Kananga sits at the UN as a head of state) wouldn’t have reacted to the old man at all. Like any good poker player he knows all the angels, controls all the information, gives nothing away, and if he has to kill his people to win, so be it. But it’s never personal, always business. He commands respect and keeps control by speaking softly, deliberately, and never giving a hint at what’s going on under the hood. This is anti-Nino and a tactic right out of The Don Corleone Playbook Blofeld loves to take credit for (trying to) take over the world, where as Big Kananga goes about his business quietly and efficiently making him more scary and one of the baadasssssest badass to date. In fact, the only way Bond is able to stop Big Kananga is by destroying his firm control from within; taking Kananga’s girl and literally “ruining” her.
Once this happen, Kananga unravels like a cheap sweater. He shouts, he threatens, and even commits the cardinal Bond villain sin; reveling the grand plan while cackling like a madman. He let it become personal, and it was his downfall. If Bond had not exploited the one chink in Kananga armor, Mr. Big very well may have been the one that got away. Which brings me quickly back to Moore as Bond, who some consider the opposite of badass. Not only is Bond savvy enough to pull of the ultimate (and perhaps only) play to get to Kananga, he too can be stone faced when required. Whether he is about to get his finger chopped off by Tee Hee’s hook or his arm is being cut to with a sharp knife, Bond keeps it close to the chest and even gets in a zinger or two to boot. Badass indeed.
Villain’s Asides/ Henchmen: I love when Bond baddies have some kind of physical deformity like Big Kananga’s #2 Tee Hee. A big, bald, smiling man, Tee Hee lost one of his arms to a crocodile and had it replaced with a powerful vice-like hook. When Tee Hee confiscates 007’s gun, he bends the barrel and hands the disabled firearm back to Bond who promptly dumps it in the trash bin. Baron Samedi, the voodoo chief of the dead, is played by Geoffrey Holder who is known to some as the Tony Award winning choreographer and director and known to me as the “hahahaha” guy in the old 7up ads. At and imposing 6’6”, Samedi is by far the best looking villain in Bond’s now 11 year history. He strikes an imposing figure whether he is playing his flute in the graveyard (don’t we all do this?) or rising up out of a grave sporting a death cloak, a top hat with blood soaked chicken feathers and a skull painted on his face (now I KNOW we’ve all done that.) The soft-spoken rotund Whisper seems under utilized. Surely there is a place in the operation for a dude who can carry an unconscious Bond under one arm, no? Sadly, he serves as little more than a lackey. Speaking of lackey’s it’s not till the end of the weak third act that we get the generic functionaries who do little more push buttons, turn dials and run around on a set that looks left over from Dr. No (1962).
Bond Girl Actress: “Introducing” Jane Seymour, as she is billed in the opening credits. Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman is saddled with one of the more thankless Bond girl roles. Her only real talent is reading the future and once that’s taken from her she has nothing to do but get dragged around by Bond, get menaced by Kananga, and react in extreme close-ups to sharp toothed animals. It’s interesting to note the role was originally going to go to Dina Ross which is a neat “what if?” especial if you picture Burt Reynolds as Bond. The more in-depth Bond girl role goes to Gloria Hendry who made a name for herself in Blaxploitation films like Across 110th Street (1972), Black Caesar (1973), and Hell Up in Harlem (1973). (They just don’t name ‘em like they use to)
Bond Girl’s Name: Solitaire. As we indicated above there is little to say about Solitaire other than she is a pawn Bond uses to bring Big Kananga down. In order to communicate with the gods and see the future, Solitaire must remain a virgin. So, Bond gets to getting and once Solitaire is deflowered she is no longer of any use to Kananga. But let us not think too much about the gender politics behind the idea of a woman loosing her power if she sleeps with a man, it will only take away from the guns and fun. Rosie Carver (Gloria Hendry) is a CIA agent who not only has one of the more boring Bond Girl handles but is playing both sides of the fence. She attempts a babe in the woods routine by telling Bond “You’re my second assignment after Banes” (Banes, he of the fang marks in the neck and custom-made footwear) but Bond is onto her rather quickly and strings her along so he can have sex with her as well. Let’s us also try to get past that fact that Rosie is (A) black and therefore (B) must work for the bad guy. Indeed, in a post PC world, the 1970’s come across as a little icky.
Bond Girl Sluttiness: Solitaire is as pure as the driven snow until she walks in to find Bond, in his first violation of the woman, sitting in her chair, thumbing her cards. Not only is it blasphemous for him to handle the deck of tarot cards but Bond sinks even lower by tricking Solitaire into bed. He rigs the deck so it consists of nothing but “The Lover” card. “You truly believe, I mean, really believe in the cards, don’t you?” Dirty pool old man! But its all for the good of King and country and once Solitaire has tasted sweet love, she hot to trot.
Bond Girls Best Pick-up Line: While escaping Kananga’s island via boat Bond asks Solitaire “Where would you like to go?” As she sinks down into a bed tucked away in the cabin she replies “anywhere we can find one of these.” This is one of the worst and least funny lines in the film.
Bond’s Best Pick-up Line: Bond first meets Solitaire when he is captured at the Harlem Fillet of Soul. Bond paces slowly, looking impossibly handsome in his suit and overcoat (Yes, Moore was once very attractive) and delivers a perfect “my name is Bond …(pregnant pause) …James Bond” with a stronger emphases on the James. Solitaire the fortune teller of course knew that already and tells him so. Bond of course now wants to know what’s in store for him. He picks a card and produces “The Lovers.” (why then, did he need to rig the deck later?) He holds up the card, raises his eyebrow and asks Solitaire “us?” and is promptly grabbed by Tee Hee. As he is being dragged out of the room he looks back at Solitaire and says “stay right there, I shant be long.” This is one of the best and funniest lines in the film.
Number of Woman 007 Beds: Three. He works on international relations with the Italian agent Mrs. Crusoe before M rudely interrupts. After Bond ushers his boss out the door he uses his magnetic watch to unzip the agent ladies dress as a prelude to round two. The Rosie courting is quite humors. Bond pulls an old move out of his playbook and is promptly cut off by Rosie who was warned by Felix to look out for such moments. Ahhh, but she is back in Bonds arms in a New York minute after discovering a hat, a symbol of voodoo, in her bedroom. It’s worth noting Rosie becomes the first woman of color who Bond gets to know in the biblical sense unless we want to count Kissy from You Only Live Twice (1967). (That call is up to you dear reader.) After Bond figures out Rosie is a double agent he takes her to a clearing by a stream, has a picnic, and has sex with her. In the afterglow he confronts her by sticking a gun in her face and demanding answers. Calling what she thinks is a bluff Rosie says “You wouldn’t. Not after what we just done” “I wouldn’t kill you before” Bond answers without missing a beat. Now that’s a sexist joke I can get behind. Finally there is Solitaire, in the bedroom at her mansion (it was after all her first time), in the cabin of a boat and in the sleeping car of a train. Quick, get these two on an airplane and they can hit for the cycle!
Number of People 007 Kills: 6 ½ men, a snake and a crocodile. Moore made it clear he wasn’t so high on the Connery Bond killing without a conscious. Indeed for his first turn as 007 the death count is not only low, but Bond makes it two thirds of the way through the film before punching a hole in his license to kill card. His first victim is a faceless guard who is knocked off a cliff via Bond’s boot swooping in on a hang glider. (Not just his boot you understand, it was on his foot.) At one point Bond is brought to a crocodile farm that doubles as a heroin processing plant. Bond blows up the plant but it appears everyone inside escapes without much problem, everyone that is except one unlucky crock. Bond then jumps into a speed boat and whips around the bayou for a while. The chase ends when Bond pours gasoline on a pursuing boat driver and forces him into a metal barge, both of which go boom. Eventually, Bond has to prepare himself to single-handedly take on about 100 voodoo dudes in order to save the girl from suffering poor old Bane’s fate. The odds are not in our heroes favor and one would think that in order to succeed, he’s going to have to slaughter quite a few baddies. His odds for success look even more dubious when we see Bond hopping over a grave with all the grace of sloth. Seriously, this is Bond and he looked like the grandpa in Willy Wonka when he first gets out of bed (before the dance number of course.) I later learned in my research that Moore injured his leg badly while filming the boat chase and was also suffering severe pain from kidney stones but man, I’ve never seen a more clumsy move by an action star on film. Anyway, the slaughter was not meant to be. In order to grab the girl all Bond had to do was shoot the goat head snake charmer, one other random dude, and a ceramic replica of the voodoo chief of the dead. On his way out Bond does push the real chief of the dead into a coffin full of snakes but this being the voodoo chief of the dead, it’s likely we will see him again. Shazam-ala-kbam, there he is in the final shot, sitting on the front of a train laughing to himself like he just drank a can of the Un-cola. (hence the ½ a man in the body count.) Loyal readers will know I love trains on film and I was delighted when Bond hops onto the rails. Tee Hee tracks 007 down and confronts him in his private sleeping car. The two men can’t very well punch each other silly with Solitary sitting on the bed so Tee Hee casually flips the hide-away and the lady up into the wall and it’s go time. While the fist-a-cuff don’t come near the Bond/Grant epic on the Orient Express it has its moments and a good amount of stuff is busted up. The fight ends badly for Tee Hee who is tossed out the window, looses his arm, and is assumed to be dead somewhere beside the tracks. It’s also worth noting that at one point Big Kananga bitches at Bond for killing one of the brothers in Harlem but we never see it happen so either Big was misinformed or there is some long-lost footage on the cutting room floor. While Moore may have wanted Bond to go easier on the human population her has no problem barbecuing reptiles. Besides the aforementioned crock he also torches a snake with a cigar and an aerosol can.
Most Outrageous Death/s: A disturbing trend of dropping the ball when it comes to the demise of the main villain is developing in the Bond series at this point and Live and Let Die maybe the most egregious offender yet. After an all too brief knife fight between Kananga and Bond the two fall into the villain’s shark tank, basically a pool in his lair. Big Kananga’s underground hideout, by the by, is an extreme disappointment. After all the care taken to make 90% of the locations live and breathe like real places, Kananga’s base of operations literally feels like producers took the Dr. No set, threw in the piranha tank from Blofeld’s hideout in You Only Live Twice, stuck a leather couch in the corner and called it day. Anyway, the “shark tank” is ridiculous in and of itself but Bond then takes a pellet from his shark gun and forces Kananga to swallow it. Since we saw what the compressed air bullet did to the leather sofa not 30 second before, we expect Kananga to explode. Instead, he blows up like a balloon at the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade and flies up the ceiling before becoming one thousand tinny tiny bites. Even thought this happened not four feet from Solitaries head (so she would have been covered with a good portion of the tinny tiny Mr. Big bites) the script still has her ask “what happened to Kananga?” to which Bond answers “He always did have an inflated opinion of himself.” Forget the bad pun, Bond doesn’t even answer the question. Kotto hated the way he died and I have to agree 110%. In fact, the entire third act of this film is kind of a bummer. Outside of the fight on the train nothing that happens lives up to the truly well done first bit of the film.
Miss. Moneypenny: Sigh. After that bit of anger I need Miss. Moneypenny to help me relax and put a smile on my face. In her brief appearance she demonstrates instant chemistry and sharp comic timing with her new leading man. Arriving at Bond’s place with M, she quickly figures out Bond is hiding a bird. Once she knows the score, she becomes a co-conspirator in keeping Mrs. Crusoe’s presence unknown to M. In the end Bond thanks her and she simply smiles. As heroically selfless as ever, Miss Moneypenny is smarter, savvier, a much more helpful than any other woman Bond encounters in the film.
M: M has a stick way up his ass and it’s a perfect counter balance to the fly by his paints Moore in the Mrs. Crusoe scene. M looks upon Bond with a bit of disgust and wonder as if to say “How is it that THIS man is our best agent?” As I mentioned before this early scene is a perfect self-contained bit of business using well-timed innuendo and pitch perfect sideways glances to set the stage for this and following Moore films. I always thought of M as kind of a drag when I was kid but the more I see what Bond puts him through, not to mention the immense responsibility that comes with his job, I’ve kind of grown the admire the character.
Q: In researching these entries, I find the Special Edition DVD’s to be a wealth of information. One thing I’ve found rather shocking is it seems like for every film at least one person from the production team talks about how “this time we wanted to cut back on the gadgets.” Has there ever been a bigger misreading of an audience? While bad gadgets are not what anyone wants (We are looking at you Little Nellie) the idea that Bond fans don’t dig a suit case Swiss army knife or a rocket shooting Aston Martin is way off. This is a film that has trapdoors and secret passages all over; I would have loved to see some Q trickery as well. Alas, as part of the effort to rebrand Bond, Desmond Llewelyn and his gadget guru Major Boothroyd were left on the bench, a move that caused such a backlash that Llewelyn would appear in every following Bond film up to his death in 1999. Consequently, the Q in the film stands for Quarrel Jr., the son of the trusted Quarrel from Dr. No and a man who shares Bond’s hairbrush (Is that an English thing that I don’t get?) I love the spy film staple of a first seemingly foolish local (we meet Quarrel Jr. lazily sleeping on the job) reveling himself to be an all important fixer. Quarrel Jr. is every bit as resourceful as his father. His boat becomes Bond’s base of operations while working in San Monique and he even brings Bond ashore on a beach front that looks identical to the one his father took Bond onto back in 1962. Quarrel Jr. also inherited his fathers superstitious pointing out areas of the island he refuses to go. Perhaps he wants to avoid the fire-breathing dragon that did in his old man.
List of Gadgets: In the now ridiculously over covered (by me) Mrs. Crusoe scene M starts bitching about the budget when Bond puts on his Rolex. In the absents of Q Bond is left to explain the gadget, a watch equipped with a magnet so strong it can pull spoons across the room, change the path of on coming bullets and even comes in handy in the off label task of unzipping a woman’s dress. One of my favorite images from the film features Bond standing alone on a small sandbar surrounded by crocks. (He became stuck out there thanks to a retractable bridge, yet another “trapdoor”). Thinking quickly, Bond sees a canoe with metal oar locks on the opposite shore and uses the watch to pull to boat to him. This brief moment of hope is quick squashed when he see the boat is in fact tied to a tree. It’s nice to sometimes see Bond fall short and have to come up with a plan B. I prefer Swiss Army gadgets; one thing that has several functions as opposed to specialized toys that perform hyper-specific task and the watch qualifies as one of the former. It has a mini-circular saw useful for cutting through rope when ones hands are bound. It also, one assumes, tells 007 the time of day and the date. I also truly enjoyed the shaving kit that includes a radio, a tape recorder and an extremely helpful bug finder. Simple and effective. Bond also has a parasail that attaches to the back of Quarrel’s fishing boat. When the moment is right Bond detaches and flies though the night sky making his way onto the island. The last toy of note is the shark gun that shoots compressed air bullets, good for blowing up sharks, sofas, and evil dictators.
Gadgets/British Government Property Bond Destroys: Perhaps because of M’s budget issues or maybe because Q doesn’t have the opportunity to give Bond anything very little of the Queens property is lost. Bond manages to keep the watch intact and sacrifices only a wetsuit. I also assume the hang glider was unceremoniously dumped somewhere on the island.
Other Property Destroyed: Ahh, 007 may have protected his own gear but when it comes to trashing American stuff, Bond displays his typical zeal. At one point, for no reason other than to shoot a scene at an airport, Bond jumps into a student plane occupied by an elderly Mrs. Bell. Bond never takes off but taxis the small two seat craft all over the place while destroying half the airport. For those keeping score at home, it’s worth noting that the sweet old Mrs. Bell delivers the Bond films first profanity with a perfectly timed “Oh shit.” Also in New Orleans, Bond blows up a backwoods heron lab (how 70’s, today it would have been a meth shack) before jumping into a speed boat. The ensuing chase is one of the more ambitions sequences I think I’ve ever seen attempted. Boats not only race in the river but jump roadways and slide across embankments and other stretches of land causing Bond to disables one boats and jump into another. While driving this boat Bond jumps over a road while the boat in pursuit lands on a mess of police cars. Without the convenience of CGI, the producers need to actually do the jump, a 110 foot launch that land them in Guinness Book of World Records for the longest jump of a boat. Bond also smashes through bunch of boats at a road block (river block?) and causes yet another to explode. Pursuing boats end up in a swimming pool and destroy a wedding cake. And then there are the dozen or so cop cars that end up in piles on the roadway. He also leaves some automobile wreckage on the FDR in Manhattan and takes out a bunch more cop cars in San Monique. The last cop car is disabled when Bond decapitates a double-decker bus on a low clearance bridge. 70’s films do love to pile up cars. 007 also blows up an entire poppy field, takes out most of the fixtures in his sleeping car, and breaks a rather life like ceramic statue of Baron Samedi likeness. Finally, he manages to destroy Solitaire by sleeping with her.
Felix Leiter: David Hedison. As readers of Blog James Blog know, Felix has become (with reason) my favorite punching bag. In the past, the CIA man has been useless at best and a mission destroying liability at worst. But what has happened here? It’s as if good old Felix drank some kind of magic elixirs between films and reinvented himself as the Wolf from Pulp Fiction (1994) Right off the bat, Felix squares things with the NYPD after Bond is in the middle of pile up containing a dead body. Unlike Felix of the past, he doesn’t need to be told what to do “Get me on the next flight to San Monique,” “I already booked your ticket.” He works the phone to calm an irate Mr. Bleaker, the owner of the flight school 007 trashed. “No one is questioning you’re patriotism Mr. Bleaker.” Felix even works his magic with Sheriff Pepper who was prepared to lock Bond up from now till the end of time. I mean, compared to the past, Felix is simply amazing. Sure, he drops the ball on the Rosie front, assigning her to Bond without knowing she was a double agent but this is the first Felix to earn is pay check. Perhaps that’s why Hedison is the only actor to play the role who gets a call back; he will be Felix once more is License to Kill (1989). Save Moore playing Bond, the Felix makeover is the biggest piece in reimaging the franchises.
Best One Liners/Quips: There are so many (“Banes, I rather liked Banes, we had the same boot maker,” “I once had a bad turn in a booth,” “What shall we drink to? How about an earthquake”) but the line that gave me the biggest laugh is delivered when Bond first meets Rosie. She goes into her bedroom to find a miniature hat adorned with bloody feathers sitting on her bed. She freaks out, screaming it’s a voodoo symbol of death. Bond consoles her saying “Why it’s just hat darling, belonging to a small headed man of limited means who lost a fight with a chicken.”
Bond Cars: Bond doesn’t get his own set of wheels in this one but cars none-the-less are a big part of the film. From the get go the Caddies on New York’s FDR drive establish a specific time and place. They are, to paraphrase Mr. Fred Schneider, as big as a whale. Add the sideburn sporting cabbie right out of central casting (not to mention his movie perfect checker taxi) and the bubble gum lights on top of the cop cars and you’ve got a snapshot of the early 1970’s USA. Bond does get to drive a nifty beach jeep and a beat-up double-decker bus that handles the dirt roads of San Monique (really Jamaica) like a Trans-Saharan race buggy. This thing swings a 180, out maneuvers half the police force and finishes off the rest of after a deception at a low bridge. (No point in trying to explains it, it must be seen, and it’s pretty damn cool.) Finally there is that little incident with the Bleaker School of Flying single prop plane.
Bond Timepiece: Rolex Submariner. At first glances …. but look closer, it slices, it dices and if you order now we will throw in a set of poison darts for free! Kananga is so impressed he even takes it from Bond at one point, inspects it, and gives it back; a fatal mistake on is part. The Rolex was a welcome sight after I got a timepiece panic attach at the top of the film. When we first meet Bond in bed he checks his watch to see it’s 5 in the morning when M comes calling. His watch is a cheep looking digital deal with big old red numbers that looks like came out of a cracker jack box. Were digital watches some kind of big deal in 1973? This thing was just tacky, far too tacky for 007.
Other Notable Bond Accessories: Our favorite spy has become a cigar smoker. And not those fat Tony Soprano jobs, these dudes are long and skinny like a candle sticks. I’ve seen it written that as part of his contract Moore had unlimited cigars while making the Bond films and if that is the case then good on you mate! He even puffs away on one of those bad boys while being pulled on a hang glider behind a powerboat. Rock star! Not nearly as cool are the rip away pants he displays after landing said glider. Connery at the top of Goldfinger he is not. Bond also apparently prefers baths to showers.
Number of Drinks 007 Consumes: 3, but he wanted more. Martini are out as Bourdon is this Bond’s drink of chose in yet another break from the previous imagining of the character. Sadly, poor Bond doesn’t get to enjoy his first whisky as he is spun into the wall before he gets served. Bond gets a bottle of Bollinger from room service and more champagne can be seen in the background at the Rosie picnic. His second bourdon (no ice) also never makes it to his lips due to the Fillet of Soul table tricks…or is it trick tables? But 007 doesn’t go thirsty thanks to Kananga’s hospitably in his under ground hideout. However Solitaire failed to let Big know Bond has switched his drink and 007 is served a clear beverage in a martini glass which I assume was a martini. I have no idea how it was prepared, how dry it was, or if it was made with vodka or gin.
Bond’s Gambling Winnings: Bond doesn’t get to play any games for money but he makes the inexcusable mistake of trying to teach a card reading fortune teller how to play gin rummy. Needless to say, he is hustled and roundly beaten. Being Bond, he takes it in stride, “Well, you know what they say, unlucky in cards…” he quips as the pull-out bed is produced from the wall.
List of Locations: New York, New York, New Orleans, Louisiana and the Caribbean island of San Monique which was actually Ian Fleming’s beloved Jamaica. If I’m not mistaken this is the first time Bond is doesn’t set foot on European soil, although we should perhaps assume his home in the opening is somewhere in England. In the past Hamilton films, locations fell flat, but not here. From the moment Bond hails a cab at Kennedy airport in my home borough of Queens, New York is milked for all its gritty 70’s charm. Shots of the FDR, Central Park, Upper Eastside store fronts and bombed out back allies of Harlem simply reek of realism. I appreciate any film maker who can avoid cliché skyline shots of the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, and the Brooklyn Bridge and Live and Let Die avoids all that. Hamilton does however embrace another New York movie stereotype that I happen to love, the old “follow that cab” bit. Has anyone ever said this in real life? Despite the fact that we only see one street corner New Orleans, the French Quarter and its classic balconies are as perfectly captured as Manhattan. The bayou serves as a great back drop to the boat chase as well as the crock farm. About that crock farm, I just assumed, dumb Yankee that I am, that the crock farm was made up for the movie. After all, who would want to have a crock farm and to what purpose? It turns out that the farm was written in after producers found the real reptile sanctuary in Louisiana. While scouting the area producers came across a sign that said “Trespassers Will Be Eaten” (the sign is featured in the film) and when the explored further (clearly ignoring the warning) they found Ross Kananga and his 1000 or so sharp teethed friends. The producers fell in love with this madman of the swamps and not only named the villain after him but wrote in his alligator zoo. They even gave him a bit in the film. When Bond has to get off a sandbar surrounded by dozens of alligators and crocodiles he jumps on four gators heads, like they were rocks, to get to the shore. I once again assumed the animals were fake and this stunt was shot on a back lot somewhere. No, not the case. The alligators are in fact real and tied to the bottom of the pond at there feet so they don’t swim away. Ross Kananga volunteered to perform the stunt and it took five tries for him to get over with out slipping and nearly getting himself eaten. They have footage of all five takes on the special edition DVD and between this and the 1964 Moore as Bond comedy sketch, this DVD is worth seeking out. The most exotic place Bond finds himself is his hotel in San Monique. In real life the exteriors where the Vegas voodoo routine happens is The Ruins Restaurant and the lodging bit is the San Souci Hotel, both in Jamaica. As they did in Dr. No the jungles, lagoons and dirt roads of Jamaica work perfectly to let use know Bond is somewhere exotic and dangerous.
Bonds Special Abilities Displayed: To get things rolling, Bond reviles that he is a skilled barista who can whip-up a perfect double half skim café mocha nut fudge Venti at a moments notice. When Rosie busts into his room with her gun drawn he pegs her immediately “custom .38 Smith and Wesson corrugated 3 inch stock, no serial number standard CIA issue.” He also shows some skill with a cigar and aftershave when it comes to cooking rattler. He relieves Big Kananga of his knife without much effort and makes like Pitfall on some crock heads which you would think comes across as cheesy but I swear it works. Then there is the ever expanding list of vehicles Bond can drive without even thinking twice. Here he navigates (while smoking) a parasail that detaches and becomes a hang glider, a double-decker bus (expertly spun on dirt roads), a small plane (just on the ground) and two speedboats that he can control whether they be in the water, on land, or in the air.
Thoughts on Film: In 1975, Saturday Night Live was one of the hottest shows on the plant and the original Not Ready for Primetime Players were rock starts, the biggest of which was Chevy Case. At then end of the first season Case left the show to pursue his film career (Stop! Why are you laughing?) At the time, there were cries from all corners that the show would never survive the loss of its best know cast member and the “new” guy who came in to replace Chase was universally hated before he even hit the stage. But, after four years on the show, Bill Murray was no longer the new guy, had become beloved by all, and went on to have a slightly more successful run of movies than Case. Also in 1975, Mick Taylor was replaced by Ron Wood as the “Not Keith” guitarist in The Rolling Stones. Again, questions were raised about the bands ability to carry on. In 2010, 35 years later, Wood is still seen as the “new guy” in some circles, and the Stones never repeated the run of classic records they produced with Taylor. The point, it’s never ever easy to replace a legend and some people can do it (Murray) and others, for one reason or another, are just never totally accepted by the fans (Wood). In 1973 Moore had the impossible task of replacing the guy who WAS James Bond, so much so that EON gave away the farm in 1971 to get him back for one more film, a film that generally sucked. Forgetting for a moment the six films that follow and focusing on this one, Moore is successful. No, he will never make anyone forget Sean but he is funny, witty, good-looking, and most important, very different from Connery while keeping true to the soul of the character, no easy trick The best word to describe a Bond film to someone who has never seen one is big; big sets, bigger set pieces, huge laughs, expensive wardrobes, exotic locations, larger than life villains and impossibly beautiful sophisticated women. Many actors would get lost under all of that and generally, when you see a crap action film, that’s exactly what went wrong. It’s not easy to stand in the eye of a special effects driven Hollywood blockbuster. Add the pumping George Martin theme and several over the top villains (one actually named Mr. Big) and Moore is rise to the highest demanded by the role and keep everything anchored at the same time. Connery did the same exact thing, but where Sean used his cool to keep everything grounded, Moore uses his humor. And don’t make the assumption that “funny” means “light:” like the swamps of the bayou, Live and Let Die has a ton of life just below the surface. Mel Brooks famously attacked racism in Blazing Saddles (1974) by pushing stereotypes to their logical (and hysterical) conclusion. If you can laugh at something, you take away its power. I’m not suggesting this film is anywhere near as good as the Brooks classic but this movie goes deeper than any previous Bond film into controversial subject matter. Beyond the now well covered race angles the drug plot line serves to bring Bond closer to contemporary thorny issues. But I don’t want to make it sound like this is some kind of “message” film, it’s Bond after all and the first two thirds are a fantastic ride containing most of the elements we want from 007 movies. (I missed Q.) Live and Let Die is also a return to form for Hamilton who seemed to be mailing it in on Diamonds Are Forever (1971).He uses the Bond as a stranger in a strange land theme as well as visual cues like voodoo hats, trapdoors and gritty locations to form a connective tissue that keeps the film together as a whole. And while the boat chase is a little silly and the third act kind of falls apart,, this is a much more sold film than Connery’s last two efforts, which brings us back to Rodger Moore. I love how he calls everyone darling, I love how he lets us see the gears turning in Bond’s head, and I love the way he delivers “Bond, James Bond” with a pregnant pause. Connery will always be king, but Moore delivers the goods in a truly fun and exciting entry into the Bond franchise.
Martini ratings: Ed Note: After some thought, BlogJamesBlog is amending the rating to better reflect where Live and Let Die lives in the James Bond cannon. I made a mistake (4 glasses), it is now corrected. (12/8/10)